Saharan Oasis of Berriane
Located in the north of the Sahara desert in the Ghardaïa Province of Algeria, Berriane is a medium-sized oasis town with lush palm groves creating a pleasant microclimate, supporting abundant life in otherwise arid surroundings. The town lies on one of the country’s most important national roads, around 43 kilometers north of the city of Ghardaïa and 554 kilometers from the country’s capital city of Algiers. The town covers an area of around 2,2 square kilometers and serves as the cultural and economic hub of the surrounding area, as well as being a strategic link between the cities in the south of Algeria, and the cities in the north.
There is archaeological and historical evidence pointing to the likelihood of Berriane having been inhabited in the Neolithic era – a period beginning around 9500 BCE. Berriane is considered to be a predominantly Berber town, with the majority of the residents having Zenata ancestry and being followers of Ibadi Islam. In recent years a number of Bedouin Arabs (Chaambi) have moved into the town, creating a more diverse population. While there is some dissension as to the exact origin of the Zenata ethnic group, it is generally agreed that they are an Eastern Berber group found in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, northern Algeria and Tunisia. Noted French historians, Emile-Felix Gautier (1864-1940) and Gabriel Camps (1927-2002) believed the Zenata people entered Algeria in pre-Islamic times, having travelled from the eastern region of North Africa. Born in in the Algerian town of Misserghine, and graduating from Algiers University, Gabriel Camps had an intense interest in the history of his home country, even after he moved to France in 1969, and he is considered to have been an authority on Berber history.
In addition to being an important agricultural and economic center in the region, Berriane is known for its superb hand-crafted carpets and other traditional arts and crafts. As one of the towns of the M’Zab Valley – a treasured UNESCO World Heritage site – its rich folklore, historic architecture, culinary delights and cultural heritage, along with prehistoric engravings and archeological discoveries make Berriane an attractive destination for tourists visiting Algeria.